Tag Archives: jesus

Good Friday Penitencia 

Background: The informant is a 59 year old woman. She was born in Pampanga, Philippines and moved to Los Angeles when she was 29-years-old. The informant still frequently speaks to her family and occasionally visits her family in the Philippines. The informant grew up as Catholic in the Philippines, converting to evangelical Christianity during her time in Los Angeles. She was exposed to the tradition when living in the Philippines. 

Context: The context was that, it was Good Friday, and the informant was reminded of her traditions, and how they differ from America.

Text

EM: For Good Friday, do you know what they did to Jesus when they, how do you call it, you know they hit Jesus on the back, how do you call it?

Me: “Um, whipping?”

EM: “Whip them? Whip Jesus right? … So in my country on Good Friday, it’s like penitence, they call it penitence, I don’t know what the word penitence means. In Tagalog, we call it penitencia, it’s like, like hitting themselves to suffer, thinking that God will forgive them of their sins so what they do is on Good Friday, they [men] go and they cover, you know, they act like they’re Jesus that they, uh, someone will cut the back of their their back with uh, how do you– laser, is that a laser, or like a blade, they cut their skin on their back and then they have this little, like a whip, like a made up whip, made of bamboo, like little tiny bamboo, and they hit themselves, like hitting their, um–”

Me: “So basically they create like this blade or like some tool made out of bamboo and then they whip themselves?”

EM: “Yes and you can, it’s gruesome because you see blood all over their back. One of my brother did that.”

Analysis:

Informant: Though a portion of her religious tradition, the information found the process to be very gory and gruesome. Her tone was very uncomfortable and she didn’t seem to enjoy speaking on it.

Mine: Penitence is the act of wishing to repent for one’s action, which may result in self-flagellation, also called self-penance, which is the action of whipping or beating oneself in order to repent. By committing the action on Good Friday, it parallels how Jesus was crucified, by both being extremely bloody and gruesome. Though the men are whipping themselves to repent, given the holiday, it also seems that they are trying to inflict pain on themself in order to take the pain away from Jesus, though he lived a long time ago. It seems to state that since Jesus suffered on Good Friday, everyone should have to suffer alongside him. In this bloody way, a covenant is formed with Jesus, that they will be together. Also, it forms a strong bond with the other men who are committing self-flagellation because they are all suffering and going through a harrowing experience at the same time. The informant’s description of it as gruesome reflects that one doesn’t have to enjoy every single aspect of their culture. There is not a homogenous brain in everyone, rather people are able to make decisions on what they like or dislike based on their own preferences.

To see another version, Tiatco, A. P. & Bonifacio-Ramolete, A. (2008). Cutud’s Ritual of Nailing on the Cross: Performance of Pain and Suffering. 58–76.

La Befana – Italian Christmas Witch

Description of Informant

AG (18) is an Italian-American dual citizen and high school student from Berkeley, CA. At home, she speaks primarily Italian, and spends her summers in Italy.

Context of Interview

The informant, AG, sits in the kitchen with her father and the collector, BK, her step-brother. Text spoken in Italian is italicized, but not translated.

Interview

AG: So, in Italy, obviously, they have Christmas. But here in America people usually hang their stockings over the fireplace during Christmastime, right? Santa Clause comes and brings them a few extra goodies in their stockings. But in Italy, what you do, is basically you get your gifts on Christmas. And the next month, in January, La Befana comes— I don’t remember if it’s before or after Christmas, but you know— umm, she comes. And she brings you, if you’re a bad child, no if you’re a good child she brings you candies and toys and a bit of money or spare change or whatever. And then, if you’re a bad child, she brings you coal! And our mom, all the time, there’s these candies in Italy that they sell a lot during this time period. They’re wrapped in black and it’s like hard chocolate, like chunky chocolate that looks like coal. So basically you would just put this candy in the stocking, and it looks like coal, so the child is like “oh no! I’ve been a bad child!” But then actually it’s just chocolate. You know?

BK: What is La Befana? Is it a human? Creature?

AG: Oh! Sorry, yeah La Befana means “The Witch.” But she’s a good witch.

BK: How is she depicted? What does she look like?

AG: Umm I don’t think it really goes into as much depth as Santa Clause. Kind of like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. Yeah like flying on the broom with the hat.

BK: Does she come on a specific day or is it always a surprise?

AG: No it is a specific day I’m just forgetting the date. I think it’s in January or February but I’m not sure. And then also, something I just remembered, here we have the Tooth Fairy. There you have Il… uhh… hmm I’m forgetting. But like, same thing with the Tooth Fairy like maybe everyone has a different version of the Tooth Fairy in their minds. Right? Like is she a pocket-sized fairy or is she a larger fairy?

BK: Or is she Dwayne Johnson. Have you seen that movie? Where he plays the Tooth Fairy.

AG: Oh that’s funny. Or is it Dwayne Johnson? Same thing with the witch, like who knows what she looks like?

BK: You mentioned coal-shaped chocolate. Is it a substitute for coal as-in you’d receive it if you were naughty? Or is it a trick to make good children think they got a punishment, when in reality they got a treat?

AG: I think it’s just a trick, yeah. We usually would get toys every year and then one year our mom did this to us and we were like “What!?” At first, we were really surprised and kinda hurt, but then it was just chocolate so we were fine. And it’s not like you get a big toy, it’s just a stocking stuffer, like a pen or a slinky.

*At this point, AG‘s father EG (52) interjects to correct the date*

EG: [La Befana comes] on “The Feast of the Epiphany,” which is January 6th. Or 5th?

Collector’s Reflection

EG is correct; La Befana comes on January 5th: “The Feast of Epiphany,” the celebration of the visit of the three kings to newborn Jesus Christ. She resembles a kindly old grandmother, and, in addition to depositing gifts for the children, is known for tidying up a bit.

La Befana‘s legend is tied to the religious origin of Christmas, which may reflect why she has not been widely adopted in the United States: a region where Christmas is a greater celebration of capitalism than religion. However, her role of stuffing stockings and leaving bad children coal has been co-opted by the American Santa Claus. In contemporary America, the practice of giving coal is kept alive in name only. Generally, all children who celebrate the holiday, good or bad, receive gifts. From the informant’s perspective, the same appears true in Italy. However, the introduction of the coal-shaped chocolate keeps the tradition alive, while not entirely punishing the recipient.

— 

For the legend of La Befana‘s origin, and a discussion of the treats she brings, please see:

Thimmesch, Debra. “The Legend of La Befana.” ItaliaRail, 20 Dec. 2019, www.italiarail.com/culture/legend-la-befana.

Christmas Baby Jesus Cake

Text:

Informant: I know as a kid– I grew up in a fairly predominantly hispanic neighborhood– there was this cake. It’s like this big pastry, and each person gets a slice. One of them has the baby Jesus. It’s supposed to represent Jesus in everything. It’s also supposed to be good luck.  You’re like receiving him into your home, and the good luck that that brings.

Context:

I asked a group of friends if they had any holiday traditions. This was one of their replies. The informant is of hispanic descent.

Thoughts:

I grew up playing this game with my neighborhood at the holiday block party. I had no idea it had a specific connection to being a hispanic tradition.

Three Kings’ Day

My friend Rudy, who is Mexican-American, shared the following description with me of how their family celebrates Three Kings’ Day:

“Three Kings’ Day is a really big one- that one we celebrated specifically. So that was like, January 6th, it’s the day that the three wise men finally reach Bethlehem with the baby Jesus. And um we- you’re actually not allowed to throw out your Christmas tree, in like, Mexican culture, like until Three Kings’ Day. So you have to keep your tree until then because that’s like, the official like, end of the season. And like, you put your shoes out and you leave food for the camels and then they fill your shoes with like sweets or a toy as a thank you for um, feeding the camels and giving them a rest. And like as a congratulations for being a good child. And so that was um, always important, and then you have a rosca de reyes which is um, a bread shaped like a crown so it’s like, circular bread. And um, there is sugar on it and dried fruits and there’s also tiny baby Jesuses inside it…There’s like multiple babies in roscas sometimes cause people like, like to play with fire. And um, well it’s like, when you get the slice and you get a baby Jesus inside your slice then you are obligated to throw a party on February second. And that’s the uh, day that Jesus is presented to the temple. Um, so you have to throw the party that day. But at that point it’s less about Jesus and more about more partying.”

When I heard Rudy’s description of the rosca de reyes, I recognized it as a variant of the “king cake” eaten in New Orleans on Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras king cakes are also circular and have a tiny plastic baby representing the baby Jesus baked into them. The version of the king cake tradition I learned from my aunt, who lives in New Orleans, says that the person who gets the baby in their slice has to buy the cake the following year. The king cake/rosca is a prime example of folkloric foodways that are present, but variable, across cultures.

Naciemento de JesusChristo

During Christmas time, the whole family gets together right before eating dinner. In this family ceremony, everybody gets a Jesus looking treat, usually something the mom of the family makes, and everybody then kisses Jesus on the forehead and then eats the head. It’s to symbolize Jesus and the Holy Spirit being in you. This always happens between the hours of 2am-3am after Christmas Eve. The time is important, because that is the time in which it connects to the “witch hour” where Evil is supposedly the strongest.

Eloisa is a Michoacan born lady who has lived in Arkansas since she has been a little girl. She used to be really religious, but after being opened up to human rights, and mostly women rights, she has taken a step back and tried to analyze everything to decide on what she can really identify as part of her.